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Celebrate 50th birthday of Colorado Mountain College

In 1964, newly appointed Glenwood Springs Chamber of Commerce Director David Delaplane found a file folder labeled “Education Committee” with a few names listed inside. “There really ought to be a college here,” he said to himself. That began months of campaigning in multiple counties to bring the idea of a tax-funded college district to a vote. The Leadville Chamber of Commerce directors also appointed a committee to look into the formation of a Junior College.

This work led to a ballot measure to create a community college and on Nov. 2, 1965, the voters of five counties approved the formation of the college district by more than a two-to-one margin. The large size of the district was based on the requirements of the state of Colorado. The junior college plan was unanimously approved by the State Board of Education. 

In an article recapping from 1965: 

“During November occurred the most far-reaching event in the field of education that anyone could have prophesied for Lake County — the favorable vote which sets in motion the establishment of a junior college district.” 

As Colorado Mountain College celebrates its 50th birthday this year, take a moment to consider the economic and social benefits it provides to our community and to other communities within their service region. I tip my hat to David Delaplane, for his vision, and I thank current leadership at the trustee and staff level, for all you do to ensure Colorado Mountain College remains a uniquely Colorado gem.

Colorado Mountain College held its first classes in the fall of 1967 at the East Campus in Leadville and the West Campus in Glenwood Springs. The first class schedule featured an architect’s rendering of the interim campus building. One interim building remained on campus for more than 40 years. In-district tuition in the fall of 1967 was $6.75 per credit hour.

Fast forwarding to today, in-state and in-district tuition is still the lowest in the state, and Colorado Mountain College’s district serves students over 12,000 square miles of the Colorado mountain region. Their service area includes distinct communities made up of international resorts, ranches, wilderness areas and former mining towns. Each year, more than 20,000 students take classes at 11 locations and online.

Colorado Mountain College offers programs from ESL and GED to bachelor’s degrees. They partner with local school districts through the Mountain Futures Fund, securing private and public funding to ensure that every local high school student can have the opportunity for a college education. The college also has a robust dual enrollment program in partnership with local school districts. It has grown from a community college to a public two- and four-year institution, and we’re fortunate to have them in the region and to have the Edwards campus located in the middle of our valley.

Affordable Option

Consider: the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program has recognized Colorado Mountain College as in the top 13 percent of two-year colleges in the U.S. for exceptional student performance and outcomes. The college was also ranked 17th in the nation by CNN/Money for student success among more than 800 two-year colleges. CMC was rated best among Colorado’s two-year colleges for graduation plus transfer rates, impressive given their geographic size and scope. Colorado Mountain College also offers the third most affordable bachelor’s degrees in the nation.

I was fortunate to participate, along with other community members, in the college’s strategic planning process a few years ago. This led to a new strategic plan; as outlined on their website, the college offers a dynamic and innovative teaching and learning experience serving a diverse population in a student-centered, inclusive, and personalized learning environment. Through a comprehensive array of programs and courses of study, Colorado Mountain College provides high-quality education that is affordable and accessible, helping all students meet their individual educational goals. Colorado Mountain College measures its success through student success.

The specific aims of the college are to:

• Deliver undergraduate instruction for associate and bachelor’s degrees and certificates;

• Offer college preparatory instruction and academic skill development;

• Prepare students for careers requiring professional and technical training, and assist business and industry in meeting their workforce development needs;

• Provide support services tailored to the needs of each student;

• Make life-long learning opportunities available to all; and

• Contribute to the economic, social, and cultural vitality and sustainability of the communities that CMC serves.

We should all take a moment to thank David Delaplane and his cohorts, who had the vision to build a community college system in the Rocky Mountain region of Colorado. Their efforts — and their vision — resulted in much more than a community college; their efforts led to a community asset.

As Colorado Mountain College celebrates its 50th birthday this year, take a moment to consider the economic and social benefits it provides to our community and to other communities within their service region. I tip my hat to David Delaplane, for his vision, and I thank current leadership at the trustee and staff level, for all you do to ensure Colorado Mountain College remains a uniquely Colorado gem.

Chris Romer is president and CEO of Vail Valley Partnership. Learn more at VailValleyPartnership.com


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